Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Yorker Archives: Waitressing

Looking for work to fund your shoe habit? Need to fit it around your lectures, and not swallow up any spare time? With so many restaurants hidden behind corners in York, waiting could just be the perfect part time job for students.

It’s quite difficult to describe working as a waitress in general terms; time spent working in an all-you-can-eat buffet is another experience entirely to working in a pub-grub type eatery, and a world away from working silver service. Having worked in two completely different style restaurants (a fairly classy Chinese restaurant-come-takeaway and now a charming and much more sophisticated Modern European affair), I’d say there are only a handful of standard waitressing experiences.

First of all, the hours. They can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your outlook. Working evening shifts means it’s guaranteed you’ll never have to pull a sicky from a lecture (or vice versa). However, it does mean you might be too tired for that 9.15. Shifts tend to be flexible, some restaurants closing up early depending on how busy they are. Be warned of the place that stays open until a given time regardless of whether you have any customers in, though- an empty restaurant translates to Ultimate Boredom. Extra shifts are usually available at the weekend; and as we all know, very little happens in York at the weekend, so this is ideal really.

The job can be demanding, something that may genuinely come as a bit of a surprise. How hard is it to take someone their roast dinner, after all? Well, throw in three other tables waiting for their starters, one table waiting to place their order, a couple of old women wanting to know if the chef will do mash without any butter, a young couple on their first date accidentally smashing a wine glass, and someone else kicking off because his medium-rare beef has been served slightly too medium for his liking. It’s a very high-pressure environment, so be prepared for a handful of stressful moments of despair. Don't worry, though, if you make a mistake, most customers are very understanding. I speak from experience; when I dropped a plateful of linguini in front of a table, I thought I was going to be sacked on the spot- instead the customer laughed and told me not to apologise, she was still full from the starter and was happy to wait a while longer.

It’s not all stress, drama and complaints though. 99% of the time, customers are charming, and just want to get on with having their tea. You make some friends with people you’d never expect. Especially in such a touristy place as York, you meet all manner of people, and form little bonds with the regulars. In most restaurants, waiting staff will be a similar age to you, and aren’t necessarily people you would meet otherwise- I work with people who went to York St John, which is brilliant for a bit of Uni rivalry!

The money isn’t to be sniffed at, either. Though for the most part you’ll be getting by on minimum wage, there is the wonderful blessing of tips. Obviously the tips depend completely on the style of restaurant you’re in, and the quality of the service you provide; but however you look at it, it’s definitely a bonus.

Personally, the pros outweigh any cons for me. If you’re happiest when you have lots of small tasks to do, an array of people to get to know, and aren't (excessively) clumsy, then this is the job for you. It can take some getting used to, balancing twenty wine glasses on a tray with one hand and taking someone’s coffee order with the other, but it’s a high-energy atmosphere that really prepares you for most pressured, customer-oriented work atmospheres, and gets top marks for being fed left-overs at the end of a shift!


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